Monday, February 20, 2006
I lived in Santa Cruz for about 6 years in the 70's; a middle California coastal town of rolling hillsides and inlets, whose overcast mornings only a hardcore surfer or devoted brussels sprout farmer could love. Formerly a turn-of-the century boardwalk resort it was still a tourist getaway with the San Lorenzo River flowing down from the redwoods into town winding along the (then) funky remnants of the beach hotels, victorian houses, and emptying beneath an old roller coaster into the Monterey Bay. During my stay, the place was saturated with students, foodstamp-funded street-people, retired hippies, crackpots, writers, a gamelan orchestra, bright orange banana slugs, laidback dreamers, idealists, feminists, LA escapees, former mental patients on the street directing invisible traffic, and an older layer of fishermen, loggers, and ordinary cranky oldtimers who'd seen it all and had enough. Oh yeah, and a great crepe place whose memory still sets me to slobber.
I spent way too much time in Cafe Pergolesi (lost to the earthquake of 1989), hanging out and listening to some great live traditional musicians in league with the espresso steam bursts. There were Irish bands, uillean pipers, and an old saw-player in a black bowler hat and suspenders who had been a Wobblie back in 1919 named Tom Scribner.
In particular, there was an older Italian gentleman who played traditional mandolin accompanied by his long-haired son (?) on guitar. After I left town, for years I tried to recapture that particular sound, looking for a good recording of Italian music on mandolin but I usually came up with some kind of over-orchestrated schlock-fest or something vocally dominated.
...and now at last!
Traversata: Italian Music In America is a collaborative musical effort by Carlo Aonzo, David Grisman, and Beppe Gambetta featuring exclusively mandolin, mandola, and harp-guitar. Sto da favola!
Traversata comes from the Italian term for "ocean crossing" used at the turn of the 20th century when immigration and travel to and fro in search of opportunity was at its peak.
The record is a mix of trad, popular, and classic Italian and Italian-American music that was either composed for, or is ideally suited to, mandolin, mandola, or harp-guitar. Besides works by virtuoso native Italians who visited America, there is (my personal favorite) the lovely "Oh Mio Babbino Caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi that seems to have been created for this version. Another favorite is the Godfather's Waltz that Nino Rota composed for the famed film. The version is pared down from the original orchestration to the absolute, haunting essentials.
The cd is supplemented with evocative pictures and well-researched liner notes describing the music, the composers all of whom had a simultaneous link to America and Italy.